The trans inquiry report is welcome but systemic prejudice will be hard to budge
By Jane Fae
It is always an odd experience, to see my life told through other peoples' eyes, and the report published today by the Commons Women and Equalities Committee investigation into transgender issues is no exception.
It concludes that trans people face "high levels of transphobia" on a daily basis, whether it be on the streets, in the NHS, or in education. Name the activity and chances are that somehow, someone has found a way to make it less pleasant for the average trans person.
The report declares that we have "a long way to go" to achieve equality. Forgive me if my instant response is a slightly less than respectful: "no shit, Sherlock!".
Because all this is so deeply understood within the trans community, that there is a strangeness to the idea that the rest of the world was unaware. Even stranger that they should need to spend thousands of pounds and interrogate the issue with all the rigour of a parliamentary inquiry to find it out.
I can't be the only trans person today sat quietly thinking: they could have just asked me. But then, you become so used to indignity, abuse and discrimination that after a while, it becomes so much the norm that you forget what it was like not to live this way.
When I first decided to transition, a close friend told me not to and showed me an article they found providing graphic details as to how dangerous it is to be transgender. I assured them I would cope, never imagining the levels of nastiness I was inviting into my life. It was the right decision, because no matter what I have encountered since, I am myself: my life, for good or ill, is now my own. And it is the right life, as opposed to the poor male imitation I led before.
My own acceptance of how trans people are treated, compared to how people in general ought to be, is summed up by one incident in my life. A couple of years back, I was walking with a friend when two passing youths, in their car thought it would be funny to drive at me and try to "bump me". I took it in my stride: was in fact, quite blasé about the experience. Whereas my friend was incandescent.
They were also incredulous too at my own reaction. Was I not upset? Angry? No, not really. Because this stuff is so much the ordinary that I haven't the energy to face down every slight, every abusive encounter.
So I am glad that the parliamentary report has set out in as black and white a way as possible, the trans reality. I'm also pleased they have put some figures to the narrative, such as the fact that as many as 650,000 people in the UK are "gender incongruent to some degree" and the fact that a third of transgender adults and up to half of "gender-variant" young people attempt suicide.
— ITV News (@itvnews) January 14, 2016
I also welcome most of the proposals for change. A reformed Gender Recognition Act, alongside a de-medicalisation of the process, self-declaration, and lowering the age of consent for GRA application to 16 are all welcome. As are a "root-and-branch review" of how the NHS and prison service treats trans people
The option to record "X" for gender instead of "F" or "M" in individual passports also begins the long overdue recognition of those who are “non-binary”, agender, gender fluid.
Don't get me wrong: it is all good stuff, and all credit to the Women's Committee and especially to Committee Chair, Maria Miller MP for making this report happen.
Forgive me, though, for putting an alternative perspective. Trans people are not asking for special privilege, merely the right, alongside every other citizen, to live an ordinary life, unencumbered by all the bad things already described. It should not be rocket science to conclude that we are as entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as any other (non-trans) demographic. And that should be an end to the matter.
In fact, although the report gets there under its own steam: much of what it is proposing is already in place, unimplemented, in a strategy put together by trans-friendly Lib Dem Minister, Lynne Featherstone, back in 2011. Much of the rest is tinkering.
Changes to the Gender Recognition Act, for instance, make little difference, as both the need and the demand for formal gender recognition appears to have waned drastically since this legislation was first enacted in 2004.
In the end progress will come not from the passing of more trans-friendly legislation, but from a sea change in social attitudes. The real difference, as far as trans people, whether binary or not are concerned – for women, too – will come when society stops obsessing about gender.
That means welcoming children into the world as people, without rushing to categorise them as this or that gender and allowing young people to develop their own internal sense of gender in their own good time, in place of bombarding them with pink and blue toys. Finally, it involves treating people as people, whatever you may suspect their intimate physiognomy to be.
In such a world, many of the issues facing trans people fade away: not least the issues that attend any so bold as to try to effect a bureaucratic "change" of gender.
Because if this report has one major omission, it is the lack of a unifying perspective and the lack of any understanding of what lies behind so much systemic oppression of trans people.
The truth is that existing systems and bureaucracies do not allow for exceptions. In the eyes of the machine, rules are rules and exceptions are an irritating anathema. Trans people don't fit the way that administrative systems have been designed. In a civilised world you'd expect that, in a contest between people and machine, the people would win. All too often the truth is quite the reverse.
Add to that the suspicion of many people in power towards our motives, and their dislike of our challenge to their world view, and the source of many of our woes becomes clear.
From years of working with civil servants on trans issues, my own sad conclusion is clear: while there are many good, honourable progressive individuals in the system, it only takes a small proportion of nay-sayers in order to stop progress in its tracks, or unpick the progress that has already been made.
That, in the end, is the real obstacle to making things better. I do not doubt that the members of the Women and Equalities Committee are well aware of what needs to happen. But producing a report is the easy bit. Only time will tell whether the rest of the system will allow the necessary changes to be pushed through.
Jane Fae is a writer and campaigner. You can follow her on Twitter here.
The opinions in Politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.